NEW DELHI: When Pandu Ranga Rao took his nine-year-old son suffering from epilepsy to the Neurosurgery department in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, he was flung into a maelstrom of a nightmare. The doctors told him he will have to wait till 2026 for the surgery—a delay of 11 years. Rao, who travelled all the way from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh in the hope of getting world-class treatment, is a dejected man. But he is not alone. AIIMS sources say children who need paediatric surgery will have to wait for two to three years for their turn at India’s premier medical institution.
AIIMS, set up in 1956, is the jewel in the crown of India’s medical infrastructure. Successive governments have cleared construction of 17 new AIIMS-like institutions in 16 states, but only six became operational in 2014. An AIIMS source says with only three operation theatres and insufficient staff, the care situation is gradually worsening for children who travel to Delhi from thousands of kilometres away for neonatal surgery, paediatric neurosurgery, thoracic surgery, plastic surgery, gastro-intestinal surgery, hepatobiliary surgery, urologic surgery, onco-surgery and endoscopic surgery.
The paediatric department can admit only 39 children in the surgery ward, and accommodate just 10 patients in the neonatal surgical ICU. Due to the shortage of staff and beds, serious and indexed cases are given preference. AIIMS admits that lack of beds and operating time are a factor. The faculty has only 10 doctors and nine staff members including storekeepers, attendants and lab technicians. Currently around 2,500 cases per year are operated at CHC, Ballabhgarh—for lack of space in the main complex— where the Department runs an Operation Theatre only once a week.
Cancer patients who require radiation also have to wait for at least four to six months to receive treatment, whereas the ideal time prescribed by oncologists is 15 days.
AIIMS doctors admit that neglecting this rule will worsen a patient’s condition. The AIIMS also has a waiting list for getting an MRI, ultrasound, CT scan and kidney transplants.
Inquiries by The New Indian Express revealed that patients have to wait for a year for an Ultrasound Doppler test. For CT scans and ultra sound tests, patients are often asked to wait till six months. “Going by the number of patients visiting the institute, the waiting list will only go up. After all, this is the only premier institute in the entire country. People have a notion that they will get world class treatment in this institution,” said a senior doctor, who didn’t want to be named. He pointed out that with kidney transplants, the situation has improved slightly. Earlier, patients had to wait for nearly five years to get a new implant, but now with three units in operation, more operations are possible.
With a large number of patients gathering for treatment, many departments have no other option but to start a wait list. Shortage of beds and OTs add to the woes. Apart from infrastructure, AIIMS is also facing a faculty and staff crunch.
While faculty strength was 602 in 2014, another 90 doctors have joined this year. Even then, the doctor patient ratio has come down to 1:10,000.
To improve conditions, AIIMS has drafted a blue print for expansion and started construction of new surgical and maternity blocks. It has acquired 16 acres of land near the Trauma Centre, but construction is yet to begin.
“The government has supported the major expansion programmes of AIIMS with a new Mother and Child Block at an expense of Rs 202 crore and an OPD block at a cost of Rs 275 crore.
A National Cancer Institute is also in the pipeline. Proposals for the expansion of Trauma Centre and Development of Western Campus of AIIMS are also underway,” Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda said.
Despite the minister’s assurance, inadequacy of plan funds for AIIMS may prove to be a major factor in the coming days.
The institute was allocated just Rs 550 crore in 2015-16 against its projected demand of Rs 2,325.50 crore, which included Rs 300 crore for the National Cancer Institute in Jhajjar, Haryana, and Rs 120 crore for an OPD Block at Masjid Moth. It also demanded Rs 50 crore for a Paid Ward and Rs 60 crore for acquisition of land.